As I approach the ripe old age of 27, one lesson I’ve learned is that the amount of time you have to play video games diminishes as you grow older. Sure, I have enough time to play a few games to completion but the days of finishing every single 30 to 50-hour epic are long gone. However, many indie developers have created short, focused experiences that are just as satisfying and compelling as its lengthy competitors. Bithell Games has been at the forefront of this when it stealthily launched Subsurface Circular last year. Similarly, the developer surprised everyone this week with the release of another “Bithell Short” titled Quarantine Circular.
Quarantine Circular tells a simple tale. In the wake of an epidemic that is threatening the human race, an alien was found, captured, and kept in quarantine until the world organization dedicated to containing the rampant disease — the IDCF (or International Disease Containment Fleet) — can communicate with the alien and find out why it is here. Similar to Subsurface Circular, Quarantine Circular is a text adventure that uses modern dialogue options to tell its story. The choices you make will dictate how the story unfolds.
While its story is simple, the themes exemplified throughout the hour and a half to two-hour game are pretty intense. It’s a story that will question your morals every second of gameplay. Every choice has a weight to it that makes it feel like your actions matter and affect the direction the story takes. It has some corny moments but overall, ended for me in a satisfactory way.
Similarly to Subsurface Circular, it tells a focused story; there is a conflict and you have to solve this conflict. How it differs is the number of characters you play as which has its pros and cons. On a positive note, it is great to see how all of these characters interact and come together to solve this alien conflict. However, unlike the robot from Subsurface Circular, I never felt connected to any one character because of how it hopped from one character to the next relatively quickly. They were all well-written and defined personalities; they were all their own character rather than an avatar that personified my personal morals.
The fantastic writing helps augment those feelings of urgency. Each of the characters you meet and play as have their reasons for trusting or questioning the alien’s motives that are reasonable regardless of whether you agree with their judgment. I absolutely hated Security Officer Teng’s point-of-view on the situation but when I had to play as her, it forced me to role-play and to create an incredibly effective storytelling device.
Not so compelling is its gameplay. For those who have not played Subsurface Circular, the game is entirely text-based where you select different lines of dialogue that influence the direction of the story; as you ask questions and uncover more information, you’ll garner “Focus Points” that give you more options to flesh out the story further.
What made Subsurface Circular‘s gameplay so great was how it made these simple dialogue choices into exciting word puzzles that were very clever and well thought out. Quarantine Circular does away with that mostly. Save for one part near the end — which includes a word puzzle that legitimately stumped me for a solid 4 minutes, then I realized what I had to do and solved it quite easily — you can complete the game with ease by just opening as many dialogue options as you can and pick the choices that you feel are right.
It’s not that the gameplay is terrible; quite the contrary, this is the best way to tell this story. I loved how each character interacted with each other and looking at each of their notes to see their thoughts on the current situation. I also thought the role-playing aspect of it makes every moment very intriguing. It is the lack of problem-solving that make it slightly mindless. It’s not that you won’t put any thought into your decision making; there are some hard decisions you will have to make with the alien. I just never felt genuinely challenged by any of the obstacles Quarantine Circular presented to me.
Bithell Games has created another great, focused experience once again with Quarantine Circular. It tells a fantastic and straightforward sci-fi story that keeps you intrigued throughout the couple of hours it takes to complete. The complexities of this tale come from the decisions you’ll make, questioning your beliefs after every line of dialogue. There are a few issues like the disconnect between the player and the characters or the omission of any challenge, but the story and the way it is told is done exceptionally well. Quarantine Circular is worth every minute of your time.